“That’s so deep, bro” : The game
YIIK (pronounced as Y2K, not Yik) is a new JRPG set in America in 1999, that is currently available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation4 and Steam. Enter a crazy new world where you become an unemployed stuck-up nerd with questionable friends, searching for a girl you are never going to see again. If this seems too familiar, remember that it’s 1999, so you were probably not as jaded and cynical as you are now.
As you dive deeper into the rabbit hole, more mysterious events start occurring until you are knee-deep in surreal imagery and the Y2K conspiracy. Use vinyl, protest signs, hula hoops to fight absurd enemies like “Sheep Man” using mini-game combat in this bizarre adventure. As you roam Frankton and its surrounding areas, enjoy atmospheric music including compositions from Toby Fox (Undertale) and Hiroki Kikuta (Secret of Mana).
You play as Alex, a self-centred recent graduate who embodies every “lazy student” stereotype imaginable. After arriving home from university, he discovers a girl in an abandoned factory. Things start to get supernatural and she is kidnapped by mystical creatures. Through an anonymous forum, you meet a variety of colourful characters who join Alex on his quest to find the missing girl through metaphysics, spirituality and the soul. You travel not only in the physical world, but also the spiritual, as well as through the minds of a handful of characters.
Your time is spent between walking around the map talking to people and solving puzzles and engaging in combat encounters. The overworld map is quite large, however there is not much to do apart from finding more enemies and items. Side quests are introduced near the end of the game, which provide light relief from grinding experience and the primary story, but these would have been welcomed earlier on, to break up the monotony.
Beatniks and beatdowns
Combat in YIIK is turn-based with rhythm mini-games, both attacking and defending. The mini-games themselves are perfectly adequate, despite becoming a little repetitive as you progress. Enemies are varied in appearance but fighting against them feels the same, as every enemy attack can be blocked in one of three ways. If you like rhythm games, you are more likely to enjoy the combat but long fights become very tiresome.
There is a definite divide between the combat and the rest of the game. Enemies can be avoided and fighting them never actually brings you closer to your end goal. Direct combat is rarely used to actually solve problems in the game. You are able to grind experience as much as you like, but this will not help you when you have to lose multiple fights to progress or need to use a specific move to defeat an enemy. Despite the fairly unique rhythm mechanics, the combat feels very token, as if the game was designed as a visual novel and then adapted into an RPG.
The story is peculiar to say the least. Passing between philosophical discussion about the state of being, paranormal activity and a shared love of music, the story of YIIK requires a lot of your patience. You are slowly fed information by the characters who understand how souls work and all the supernatural business, but you will be waiting a long time to actually know what is going on. Small pieces of exposition are thrown at you constantly and it is hard to separate important information from secondary lore. The critical path is littered with unnecessary details: if you are not invested, it will be a miserable ride. And even if you give the game the benefit of the doubt, the main storyline ends in a tremendous anti-climax.
The world is well-formed and all loose ends are tied up. There a few nice details around the world, characters with little storylines that develop as time goes on and tongue-in-cheek Easter eggs, but nothing to write home about. The visual style of the game is quite striking and surreal and, together with the music, creates a mysterious atmosphere. However, due to the painfully slow pacing of the main story, this potential for mystery and intrigue is squandered.
The music is the true highlight of YIIK. Every song is atmospheric and interesting and the music often directly reflects how you should feel in respect to the events of the game. Tracks become linked to certain moments and feelings and encourage you to empathise with even the most unlikeable characters. One of my favourite touches was that there were various battle themes, avoiding the common issue of a good battle music becoming painful over time.
The cast of characters was a bit hit-or-miss. Some characters were truly unlikeable and it was hard to care about their motivations or personal struggles. Especially Rory, the lonely forum lurker with a miserable demeanour and a holier-than-thou outlook on life. I can’t think of one nice thing to say about Rory, he has no redeemable traits. I hate him.
Despite this, interactions between characters seemed genuine and by the end of the story all of their motivations were clear. The characters must be fairly believable for me to despise one of them so wholeheartedly. The story made sense by the end as well to an extent, however its delivery left much to be desired.
At its worst, the game was truly monotonous and progress was incredibly slow. The main storyline constantly changes focus and digressions become full chapters of unnecessary filler. Sometimes, a short game can have a much greater impact, like Frog Detective. In short, a sizeable proportion of YIIK could be removed to streamline the overall experience. A prime example of this is the Mind Dungeon, where you level up your character and have inane encounters with the crows that inhabit your mind. Every stat needs to be selected individually to level up and then you must enter each room one at a time to actually gain the stats. Not to mention that this whole levelling system felt completely detached from the rest of the game.
My overwhelming feeling towards YIIK is disappointment. The story offers an interesting premise, and then proceeds to show how clever it is without actually producing a satisfying conclusion. The game felt like it was made by one person with no self-control. The story would become incoherent for long periods and problems with the game were exacerbated by its gratuitous length. If you are a fan of JRPGs and are looking for something a bit subversive, by all means, try out YIIK. However, be aware that playing this game can be a very disjointed experience and enjoying every element of the gameplay is crucial to getting any satisfaction from the game whatsoever.
Score: 5.9/10 👽
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.